After first conference win, women trying to climb standings

by Tyler Rushmeyer

Escaping with its first conference win last weekend nearly 1,000 miles east, the women’s tennis team takes its game back to the Baseline Center on Saturday to face Michigan State as the Big Ten season enters its final month.

The Gophers (8-8 overall, 1-4 Big Ten) came out on the winning side of a 4-3 dual match decision against Penn State last Sunday, two days after getting handily beaten by No. 35 Michigan, 7-0, on Friday.

Senior Ashley Schellhas, who began last weekend with a singles and doubles defeat at Michigan before rebounding for two wins against the Nittany Lions, said the win was huge for a team that has found itself on the losing end of tight matches more often than not this season.

“It wasn’t a pretty match at Penn State and it was definitely tense and tight throughout,” she said. “When it was finished, I think we all breathed a sigh of relief. It was nice to have a match finally turn in our favor.”

Taking the final three matches at Penn State to eke out the tight match was no doubt a step in the right direction for the No. 57th-ranked Gophers. But with the Big Ten Championship lingering less than three weeks away, it’s clear there is still much to do.

Coach Tyler Thomson said although the win was better than a loss, the team needs to do more than just escape with victories if it wants to build up its confidence for the remainder of the season.

“Right now we’re just playing to stay alive, “he said. “We still haven’t beaten a Big Ten team that’s better than us on paper and until we do that, I don’t know if any confidence will be gained.”

Facing the Spartans (11-8, 1-3) will not afford the Gophers that chance, but the possibility of picking up its second consecutive win is likely to be afforded.

Junior Danielle Mousseau, who has not witnessed a Minnesota victory over Michigan State during her tenure, said being the favorite in some matches is still something the team is getting used to and something it will need to take advantage of.

“It’s kind of a different position for us,” she said. “It’s obviously nice, but this is a team we haven’t beaten in awhile. The opportunity to pick up a victory is there. We just need to take advantage.”

Saturday’s match could be a vital one for Minnesota’s chances for an NCAA tournament bid, seeing as how it will turn around and face No. 11 Northwestern seven days later.

Sitting on the outside looking in for an NCAA berth, and with the conference season winding down, any type of win for the Gophers would be huge, but for Thomson, etching out tight matches is not good enough for his squad.

The fifth-year coach said Minnesota needs to come out fired up and ready to make a statement on Saturday.

“The motivation is to beat them convincingly. To eke one out will just give us that feeling of escape again,” he said. “In my opinion, we need to come out and hammer them.”